Treatments and Programs Designed to Reduce the Risk of Sex Offenders Recidivating

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Sexual offending is widely recognized as an immoral and devastating act. Victimization brings with it emotional and physical costs. Not only does it negatively impact the victim but also family, friends, and the community as a whole. For this very reason, researchers and experts work together to form treatments and programs designed to reduce the risk of offenders recidivating, sexually and nonsexually. Multisystemic Therapy (MST), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Sex Offenders Against Recidivism (S.O.A.R.) are only a few of the many treatments and programs that exist for sex offenders. Although they are considered helpful, they have yet to be proven effective for all sex offenders against recidivism. There is still more research to be done but to accomplish this, researchers must confront particularly complex issues.

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One of the most pressing issues in sex offender treatment is a generalization. It is the concept of external validity, in which researchers can apply the results of a study to make a broad statement about a group, and that statement would be accurate. For example, a study to determine if ostriches have wings can form the conclusion that they do, and support the generalization that all birds have wings. Likewise, sampling techniques can limit a study’s generalizability. Most studies tend to consist of small groups and thus are susceptible to invalid generalizability and biased results. In a study of the effectiveness of sex offender treatment, researchers failed to include a small portion of eligible youth who were sent to restrictive placements, and selection of participants from a single urban area. Other studies included dropouts in comparison groups and not the treated group, even though those groups were more likely to recidivate. Therefore, the treated group will produce more positive results than the comparison group. Another issue would be studies that use low-risk offenders, who have no more than two prior felony convictions or low substance use. Low-risk offenders are less likely to recidivate sexually and nonsexually compared to high-risk offenders. This exerts biased and invalid results that show a treatment is effective, but not for everybody.

Increasing generalizability is crucial to producing accurate results and making general statements. When researchers formulate a hypothesis, they can use generalization to make predictions with a certain degree of accuracy. Researchers then apply these results to future research which can lead to more successful studies. Generalization can also increase the likelihood of individuals who are not in the study, to expect similar results. This leads to more research studies, with increasing sample sizes, different participants, and different variables that are consistent with one another. Thus, researchers can generalize these findings into a theory or a population.

Likewise, criminologists use generalization and trends to predict criminal behavior and different tactics to prevent crime. It is impossible to narrow down these findings into one theory because of how complex and diverse the criminal justice system is. However, these theories are necessary for future development in the criminal justice system. Once these theories have been identified, it is possible for criminologists to organize them into variables. This organization of theory allows all criminologists to go from vague ideas to formulated concepts everyone can understand and communicate. Thus, generalization can be applied to a wide range of areas, it promotes clarity and utilizes the testing of theories in criminal justice.

In the study of recidivism among treated sexual offenders, researchers examine both treated (experimental group) and untreated (comparison group) sexual offenders from the Ontario region in Canada. The purpose of this study was to determine if offenders would recidivate sexually after treatment over a nine-year span. Participants were selected based on age at index offense, Hare Psychopathy ChecklistRevised (PCL-R) score, and type of offender (intrafamilial child molester, extrafamilial child molester, and rapist). The participants consisted of high-risk offenders, offenders with multiple treatment needs, or both. Researchers classified the sex offender treatment (individual and group treatment) as the variable being manipulated (independent variable) and recidivism rates as the variable being measured (dependent variable). Both groups also received non-sexual-related treatment that focused mainly on criminal behavior.

Because the study was composed of small groups of offenders, it was difficult to determine how effective the treatment was. The study was controlled tightly by eliminating offenders who have already received sex offender treatment. They also avoided using offenders with psychiatric issues, seeing though they are more likely to recidivate than others. Offenders were also dropped for various reasons as there was no available release date, the offender died after release, etc. Although data from treatment dropouts were excluded from the comparison group, they were retained in the treated group. The results indicated that both treated and comparison groups illustrated low recidivism rates, however, no significant differences were found between the two groups. Researchers deemed the study as effective because offenders who were rated high-risk displayed lower rates of recidivism than predicted.

In the study of juvenile sex offenders, researchers evaluated the efficiency of Multisystemic Therapy (MST) and Usual Community Service (UCS) to recidivism rates. MST is a family and home-based treatment that focuses on antisocial behavior displayed in youth. Compared to previous trials, this study includes a larger and heterogeneous group of juvenile offenders, a comparison treatment condition, psychosocial outcome measures, and a longer follow-up period. Participants consisted of equal numbers of urban and rural residents, who had committed a serious crime, lived with at least one guardian, and had no sign of mental illness. The treatment was provided by therapists who supervised participants for over 21 months and focused on the goals and progress of juvenile offenders. The variables studied included individual adjustment, family relations, peer relations, criminal activity, and school grades. Results indicated MST was more effective in all of these variables, improving behavior problems and reducing recidivism compared to UCS.

In the study of a two-year follow-up regarding sexual juvenile offenders, researchers determined if results obtained in a 12-month study of Multisystemic Therapy were sustained after a two-year follow-up. The study also reviewed rearrest rates from the first 12-month to the two-year follow-up. Researchers hypothesized youth in the MST would retain these results and have fewer rearrests. The study examined demographic information and youth and caregiver self-reports on sexual risk behaviors, as well as, substance use. Eligible participants had to been ordered sex offender treatment for the index offense, reside with a caregiver, be between the ages of 11 and 17, and had to show no signs of mental illness. All participants resided in urban areas. Of the 131 participants, seven of them were dropouts. Either they were no longer eligible or few participants were girls. Therapists held weekly supervisions either on-site or via conference calls. Results indicated participants sustained favorable results after the two-year follow-up, however, MST effects on rearrests were not observed. Researchers then concluded that a family-based intervention is beneficial to sexual juvenile offenders, who are less likely to re-offend.

In the study of the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on sexual offenders, researchers compared reoffense rates of both treated (experimental group) and untreated offenders (comparison groups) from California’s Sex Offender Treatment and Evaluation Project (SOTEP). Treatment included an inpatient Relapse Prevention (RP) program, where the treated group lived in a hospital and the untreated group resided in prison. The study screened participants and eliminated those who denied their offense or had a potential criminal career, resulting in a low base rate of sexual offending. Eligible participants were randomly assigned and matched on the variables of age, criminal history, and type of offender. The treated group was monitored by sexually deviant peers, as well as, therapists. Whereas, the untreated group was surrounded by people who were highly intolerant of sexual deviance. Researchers measured recidivism rates “rap sheets’ ‘, and rearrests evaluated interrater agreements, and tracked if participants met their treatment goals. They were followed over an 8-year period. Results indicated that the treated group did not recidivate at a lower rate than the untreated groups. Thus, researchers concluded that SOTEP does not support the effectiveness of treatment for sexual offenders.

The Meta-analysis study of the effectiveness of sex offender treatment for juveniles consisted of data from nine studies on juvenile sexual offender treatment. The study included recidivism rates for sexual, non-sexual violent, non-sexual non-violent crimes, and unspecified non-sexual crimes. Eligible participants were juvenile offenders between the ages of 7 and 20, who committed a sexual offense. The study also included a treated group, an untreated group, and a follow-up monitoring for recidivism after discharge. Four included studies contained a control group and five studies included a comparison treatment group. Treatment was not specified but consisted of help from treatment facilities. Six of the nine studies tracked rearrests, two studies tracked convictions, and one study used either-or. The results indicated that treated juvenile sexual offenders recidivate at a higher rate than untreated juveniles. Whereas, non-sexual recidivism rates were higher than sexual-recidivism rates.

Studies have shown the effectiveness of a treatment is dependent on several factors, including the type of offender, the type of treatment, and how much supervision and support the offender has. However, there are many issues in sex offender treatment studies including, measuring improvement, unreliable self-reports, follow-ups, sample size, and even generalizability. The lack of information and the effectiveness of sexual offender treatment programs, it makes it difficult for researchers to determine what works and what doesn’t. Researchers can not make a broad generalization of the effectiveness of sexual offender treatment without a certain level of accuracy. Given the limitations in the effectiveness of sexual offender treatments, researchers can improve their methods with vigorous research and practice.   

07 July 2022

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